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Biography of John Napier Natural Inventor of Logarithms

Inventor: John Napier Natural

Most Famous Invention: Natural logarithms


         John Napier was born in Merchiston Tower, Edinburgh, Scotland in the year 1550.  He was born into a well to do and influential family, being the son of Sir Archibald Napier, the 7th Laird of Merchistoun and Janet Bothwell Napier, whose father was a member of the Estates of Parliament.  He was also the nephew of the esteemed clergyman Adam Bothwell who some years after John Napier’s birth became the Bishop of Orkney

          It is interesting to note that John Napier’s parents were only in their mid teens when he was born and so one might say they grew up with him.

John Napier

          Being a member of the nobility, John Napier was not sent to school until he reached the age of thirteen, being rather taught at home.  He started school but dropped out almost immediately.  The reasons for this may not have been bad however since it is thought that he did so in order to travel to a place where he could receive a better education.

          John Napier’s uncle, Rev. Adam Bothwell, wrote the following in a letter to John Napier’s father:  “I pray you, sir, to send John to the schools either to France or Flanders, for he can learn no good at home.”  Most historical researchers believe that this advice was acted upon.

          As he grew, John Napier showed a remarkable ability to excel in the studies of mathematics, physics, astronomy and astrology.

          John Napier returned to Scotland at the age of 21 and one year later he married Elizabeth Stirling, whose father, James Stirling was the 4th Laird of Keir and of Cadder, thereby uniting their two very prestigious  families.

          Quite wealthy in his own right, Napier purchased a castle in Gartness and he and Elizabeth settled down to raise a family.  They had two children and shortly after the birth of the second one Elizabeth passed away.  Napier later married Agnes Chisholm and they had ten children.

          Napier’s father died in 1608 and Napier moved his family to Merchiston Castle where he assumed his duties as the 8th Laird of Merchiston.

          Napier’s interest and publications concerning logarithms led to his being declared the discoverer of logarithms.  In truth the actual founder was Michael Stifel, who invented an early form of logarithm tables many years earlier, but it was Napier who improved and expanded on these tables.

          John Napier died April 4, 1617.  His death was said to be caused by the gout. 

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